"I am the bread of life.
Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died;
this is the bread that comes down from heaven
so that one may eat it and not die.
I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world." John 6:51
For Catholics with the Church's emphasis on sacraments in general and Eucharist in particular, it is all too easy to read these words of Jesus as referring to the bread received in Holy Communion as the Body of Christ. As a Jew, the notion of eucharist in this sense would have been foreign to Jesus. However the notion of eucharist as a memorial meal would have been easily accessible. In this sense and in line with the final meal with his followers, Jesus understood himself as the bread of life for all those united to him in a communion, similar to the communion which he shared with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. Our sharing the bread is truly a "holy communion" in which we become so closely entwined with Jesus that we enter into the life of the Trinity...not in some future heaven but right here and right now.
The metaphor of consuming bread which is converted into our very life energy, the source of continuing life, was as close as Jesus could come to communicating what union with him meant for the disciples. They and we would consume his very life, his values, his notions, his fundamental driving life force and thus would, in some mysterious way, become him.
The passage from John's gospel quoted above was read on Sunday August 12. It is the second reading from Ephesians (4:30-5:2) that gives us an idea of what it means in the day to day lives of disciples, this becoming Jesus through a holy communion. It is not some ethereal and philosophic proposition that becomes a test of faith. It is a life, a way of life, as the early Christians termed it, characterized by love and service of others.
If I stop with the theological proposition and rest content with some "feeling" that Jesus is within me, I miss the whole point. Jesus is not within me but I and Jesus become a single entity with a single life force that is expressed in every word and deed in my life. There is a new principle of life within me that has more to do with baptism than eucharist. I was born into new life in baptism and I continue to celebrate that ongoing communion with Jesus and through him with the Trinity in the eucharist.
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